South Africa's early World Cup exit March 27, 2011

The horror, the horror

The World Cup knockout-phase monkey stays infernally glued to South Africa's backs for another four years

The short- to medium-term future seems bright for the South African cricket team, whether you are talking the limited-overs formats or Tests. But a very solid chunk of their support base won't give the proverbial continental about that right now, either burying their heads in their hands in misery, or in more strident cases spewing out a stream of unflattering mantles - some of them will begin with the inevitable "c", I'm sure - for Graeme Smith and his stunned troops.

As a forlorn outgoing captain, Smith himself conceded after the World Cup quarter-final defeat to unfancied New Zealand in Mirpur on Friday, they will simply have to "take it on the chin".


It will be little consolation, too, that a limited yet gritty, hang-in-there outfit like New Zealand are increasingly regarded as good "tournament" material, while South Africa are somehow more accomplished by a mile as a bilateral "series" team.

Yet this particular South Africa squad had seemed to have just about everything at the ready in the quest to knock that theory for six; seemed to have covered so many crucial bases for the task of excelling at a World Cup on the subcontinent.

And for a few weeks, just for mundane record purposes now, they pretty much did. Even as he accepted the Man-of-the-Match award, New Zealand allrounder Jacob Oram described South Africa as "a damn good side".

Much, much earlier in the trial-by-patience contest at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, ESPNcricinfo's sharp-minded UK editor Andrew Miller had tweeted: "A bit of mystery in the spin department is what SA have been crying out for since readmission. They look frighteningly complete now." Just not quite complete enough, alas, to go all the way to World Cup glory at long last.

Why, even a maiden appearance in the final would have represented progress: instead the abject curse continues - this was its fifth ruinous visit - of South Africa never having won even a sole fixture in the World Cup knockout phase.

"Your guess is as good as mine," said poor "Biff" as Mark Nicholas, handling the televised post-match presentation ceremony, asked him (not the most opportune moment, though it was always coming, eh?) for possible reasons for this stark failure.

In a valiant attempt to be upbeat, Smith suggested that "in future [the team] might challenge the perception [of frailty] and get over the line". Sooner or later, it will. You would think it has to! The country has bright prospects in abundance to accompany its established, indisputable pool of world-class players. Imran Tahir has been a breath of fresh air, while we probably have not yet have seen the very best of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel, Colin Ingram, David Miller and others, who generally boast ample time on their side.

But for the moment the post-mortem period, something South Africa's World Cup critics and observers are so used to grappling with since the bogey first reared its head in 1992, cannot be avoided.

How ironic that this South African team, so much more harmonious, I believe, and so much more dynamic, daring and versatile, than the class of 2007, actually tripped up one hurdle earlier than the side who turned out back then. That's cricket? Phew, she's a tough old cookie, in that case.

How ironic that this South African team, so much more harmonious, I believe, and so much more dynamic, daring and versatile than the class of 2007, actually tripped up one hurdle earlier than the side who turned out in the Caribbean

Smith led South Africa well in his ODI captaincy swansong here - sometimes outstandingly, many of sober mind will concur. The man has a phalanx of detractors (and it was forever thus) yet he won plaudits from all sorts of people, not least several of the star-studded international TV commentary team, for the new spirit in which he, and by extension his men, mostly kept the opposition guessing through flexibility, enterprise and courage of conviction.

I am pleased for him, in many ways, that he is gradually unbundling the cares of leadership, which may mean he can address more studiously the gremlins that wriggle up to an irksome degree in his own game. For in truth, perhaps in the underperformance at the crease of senior statesmen Smith (particularly) and Jacques Kallis lay at least one notable cause - not a whole lot else went wrong, when you think about it - of South Africa's exit at the last-eight juncture.

On the pitches of Asia, these were the sort of men, sporting so much street wisdom between them, who needed to bat through as often as possible, just making it that much easier for a team tally of 240 to become a 290, a 285 a 325... or even, ahem, a 172 to turn to the altogether more blissful sanctuary of 222.

And yet it never happened, in seven appearances apiece, even if Kallis had a better excuse as he fought cobwebs from a relatively long-term injury preceding the tournament. Smith struggled palpably for rhythm in his opening slot throughout the tournament, averaging 26 and never exceeding 45 in a single knock. He may have a fight on to keep his ODI berth as a rank-and-filer. Kallis averaged 32, but only flickered as the merciless accumulator everyone knows he can be, and his best innings was 69. Oh yes, and both "got in and got out" on the grim day they ran into New Zealand.

Doubts about the "bottle" of the national team when the chips are really down will be aired anew, like the forest fire that suddenly earns fresh lustre with the changing of a wind. The sniggerers will stay all a-titter.

Still, I don't believe this South Africa group, who overwhelmingly gave it their all and then some, deserve a rotten-tomato welcome home. Let's be gentlemen and ladies. Let's all take it on the conk, just as GC Smith and company are having to. And move on. Or at least bloody try to.


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  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2011, 21:37 GMT

    Every team has a cracking point when under pressure. The SA cracking point seems to come when they come close to beating a good side in a close game. Suddenly it all gets too hard. It's an odd mix. They seem to relish the contest, but baulk at winning it.

  • Craig on March 29, 2011, 20:31 GMT

    Hindsight's a perfect science, and now everyone says we should have had a longer batting line-up. What we needed were batsmen at the top of the order who inspired confidence and built the kind of platform that the middle order could work with. Unfortunately, Smith was horribly out of form, Kallis had gone back to his old ways of eating up balls, and Amla was just plain unlucky. Look at how Sri Lanka, who have a long tail, take resposibility at the top, and understand why we lost that game. Both Smith and Kallis were out to rash shots, and it's just iunforgivable for Smith to blame the batting in the middle overs for the loss, as he did in the post-match press conference.

  • Deon on March 29, 2011, 14:44 GMT

    When the tournament started, the bookies were giving SA a 14% chance to win the tournament. In other words, the bookies were giving SA an 86% of not winning the tournament. That's all that has happened here. It's disappointing. It's anoying. But it's sport. (In rugby SA can count their lucky stars. They have won the world cup 2 times out of 4 attempts. Over time, it all balances out.)

  • M on March 29, 2011, 9:28 GMT

    Big tournaments require experienced & strong temperament players......SA had more talented & flashy players but less battle hardy.........NZL had less talented but more experienced & sturdy players who didn't panic in crunch times........SA erred in omitting Boucher & Albie Morkel, who was indispensable for CSK in IPL......arrogance can not be a substitute for experience & temperament......

  • diren on March 29, 2011, 5:16 GMT

    For close to 20 years SA has had bad luck at world cups. its unbelievable!!! but i believe SA has a destiny to fullfill.......everything in life happens for a reason and SA has had to go through a hard time but when they finally win the WC they will win many many more and dominate world cricket for years!!!!!

  • Harsh on March 29, 2011, 3:56 GMT

    It is significant to note that it has not always been the best team that has won the World cup but the team with the best temperament,degree of professionalism and match-winning killer instinct.It is these very qualities that enabled India to prevail over West Indies in 1983,Australai to beat Pakistan.England and India in 1987 and Palistan to overpower England in 1992.South Africa were arguably the bset team in 1996 and the unofficial champions in 1999 but simply lacked the mental tenacity and killer instinct.Infact in the 1990's had a record of being unbeaten in tournaments until being upset in the final.

    In this edition they were the best team but again their nerves got the better of them.Their batting relied too much on Kallis and Devilliers and they needed to play one more batsman at 5 down.

  • Harsh on March 29, 2011, 3:46 GMT

    I can't express how sorry I feel for South Africa who are just destined to lose the World Cup.They were the moral champions in 1996 and 1999 and deserved to win the 1999 title where they were eliminated on technical grounds after a tie.They wee the most balanced and most consistent side in this tournament till they capitulated against New Zealand.It was the same lack of match-winning killer instinct and temperament in 1996 and 1999 that saw their downfall.These were the very qualities which enabled past champions like West Indies,Australia,Pakistan,Sri Lank and India to capture the title.No team has been as unlucky or deserving of the title as South Africa.

    This is further evidence that it is not neccessarily the best team that wins the world cup like India in 1983 or even Australia in 1987 or Pakistan in 1992.It is the side that has peaked at the right time that has clinched the title and only West Indies and Australia have been the moral world champions.

  • Goutham on March 28, 2011, 16:26 GMT

    "How ironic that this South African team, so much more harmonious, I believe, and so much more dynamic, daring and versatile than the class of 2007, actually tripped up one hurdle earlier than the side who turned out in the Caribbean"

    Its not ironic. tournament format last time was such that the firs knockout match was a semi final and we all know SA is very good at making it to the KO stage but not getting past it. better luck next time Proteas.

  • Thilak on March 28, 2011, 15:25 GMT

    You cannot win games with 4 batsmen and 7 people who can also bat. Atleast the 4 batsman should have taken ownership to finish the game. Smith/Kallis/ABD/Amla - Thats it.. Out of this amla was unlucky, ABD was unlucky - Kallis and Smith should have played safer. C'mon 4 runs an over and you cant finish the game yourself. Hopefully this is a lesson for all other teams who will be chasing.

  • Teen on March 28, 2011, 14:03 GMT

    OK can someone please explain it to me as 1 thing, as everyone has somehow failed to acknowledge that why was SAfrica playing with 5 genuine bowlers which Kallis, Duminy and Faf in squad as well. After reading countless no of articles and this 1 as well, I am still shocked how come everyone has skipped the issue which I have been wondering about since the toss. They had a ridiculously long tail and only 5 genuine batsmen. Look at teams like Pak which only has 3 genuine bowlers. Does Smith think he cannot even get 10 overs out of Kallis(one of the best), Duminy and Faf(a good alrounder). Oh btw I am not a South African but a very confused cricket fan

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